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7 Jan 2017

Masahiko Sato “Belladonna” 1973 Japan mega rare Soundrack Psych Prog

Masahiko Sato  “Belladonna” 1973  Japan mega rare Soundrack Psych Prog
Belladonna is incredible psychedelic and stoned with treated studio FX but also deeply exotic and cinematic with certain tracks featuring sexy, spooky vocals sung in Japanese and a splash of scat harmony. Superb arrangements full of electric piano, basslines, analogue electronics, congas, jazz horns and hip hop beats……….. 

One of the great lost masterpieces of Japanese and adult animation, Belladonna of Sadness has never before been officially released in the U.S. With its horned demons, haunted forests, and explicit eroticism, this mad, swirling, psychedelic light show is equal parts J. R. R. Tolkien and Gustav Klimt. Produced by the godfather of Japanese anime and manga, Osamu Tezuka, and directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, Belladonna—about an innocent young woman who makes a pact with the devil (voiced by Tatsuya Nakadai!) to take revenge on the local lord who raped her on her wedding night—unfolds as a series of spectacular, still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. Transgressive and not for the easily offended, Belladonna of Sadness has been newly restored from the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements, and features over eight minutes of footage cut from the original version. ………………… 

“There was a time when the strength of a musician’s vision transcended all labels; here is a chance to dip into that pool again, and emerge not just refreshed, but alive again with the sense that we all can live in that world again, but most importantly raise the flag for excellence. Fantastic.” 
Jim O’Rourke 

An unholy grail of near mythical status finally joins the Finders Keepers Records discography in the form of this first-ever reissue of Masahiko Sato’s elusive sensual psychedelic free jazz score to the stunning Japanese witchcraft animation Belladonna Of Sadness (Kanashimi no Belladonna) directed by anime screenwriter Eiichi Yamamoto in 1973. An early feature-length example of a micro-genre in which Japanese anime producers collaborated with the “pink” film genre, Belladonna’s challenging occult, sexual and political subject matter was the cause of the film’s notoriety for many years, earning Yamamoto’s work a critical platform amongst some of the best counterculture animation films of the era such as La Planète Sauvage ( René Laloux/Roland T poor, France 1973), Marie Mathématique (Jean-Claude Forest, France 1967), Wizards (Ralph Bakshi, US 1977), Heavy Metal (Gerald Potterton, Canada 1980) and Time Masters (René Laloux/Moebius, France 1982). Drawing further stylistic similarities with Shuji Terayama/Tenjo Sajiki associated poster artist Aquirax Uno and the Hara-Kiri magazine cartoon strips Pravda/Jodelle by French artist Guy Peellaert, as well as the early flamboyant Klimtesque imagery of Jean Rollin collaborators Philippe Druillet and Nicolas Devil, Belladonna Of Sadness brought a strong European flavour to its sophisticated and stylish Japanese application which accentuated the French origins of the plot loosely based on accounts taken from the 1862 book La Sorcière (The Witch) by French historian Jules Michelet. 

Over the last decade Belladonna Of Sadness has risen from the ashes and now shines brighter than ever. Now on the eve of its third or fourth global DVD release, fans no longer have to wait four months for third generation VHS telecine rubs from “that guy” in the States, or stuff their ambitious wish lists into the hands of any lucky friends visiting Tokyo in the summer. Belladonna has been used as nightclub projections by clued-up VJs and been restored by discerning feminist folk singers and improv bands while influencing illustrators, fashion designers and other creative types along the way. 

Original copies of the soundtrack, however, are much less likely to rear their heads on a weekly basis, with prices literally doubling each time the original stock copies swap hands amongst the same Italian dealers at central European record fairs. Italian soundtracks are expensive anyway, but this one, as I’m sure you’ll agree, has got extra credentials. Finders Keepers Records, in direct collaboration with Sato himself, agree that this record should finally be liberated amongst those who know the magic words. With our decision to keep this album “strictly Sato” we removed a track – the main orchestral love theme by Asei Kobayashi and Mayumi Tachibana, which in all honesty is very much detached from Sato’s psychedelic soundtrack. Kept intact, however, are the songs sung and penned by Sato’s then wife Chinatsu Nakayama, including the track entitled TBFS (answers on a postcard?) that only appears on the master tapes and never actually made it to the theatrical cut of the film (although the theme is briefly alluded to, in different instrumentation, in a cut-scene available on the German DVD). This reissue project also marks the beginning of a longer intended relationship between Finders Keepers and Masahiko Sato, exploring his recorded work in both film music, jazz and avant garde composition…………. 

Even in this overloaded blogosphere universe we live in, where cinematic and musical obscurities from the 60s & 70s seem to wash ashore each day with more frequency than driftwood or the rising tide, 1973’s Belladonna of Sadness stands out like a flaming funeral pyre of potent, unrestrained vision and chilling, funky beauty – the definitive “what the hell is THIS?” flick all us film freaks crave. Defiantly 70’s, explicitly erotic, this Japanese animation stunner is also backed by a fabulously dark and groovy soundtrack from Masahiko Sato. A fine summary of the film’s grim tone and unorthodox, un-Japanese plot accompanies the posts of the soundtrack tunes on YouTube: “Belladonna of Sadness (aka Kanashimi no Beradona, 1973) is loosely based on the 19th-century French literature classic‚ La Sorcière, by historian Jules Michelet. Set in a brutally repressive and exploitative feudal society, it follows the story of Jeanne, a young peasant woman, who in her powerlessness and struggling for emancipation, is gradually driven to ancient superstitions and lascivious satanic practices, only to be accused, raped, tortured, and executed for witchcraft.” Tragically beautiful psychedelic animated witchcraft erotica? Sign me UP! 

The swansong project of manga legend Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions studio, known for their highly popular youth-oriented TV series Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy, Belladonna of Sadness was Mushi’s gamble that failed – eating up the company’s shrinking resources, bombing at the box office, and bankrupting the company. And this desperately assured, going-down-in-flames passion is written all over the finished film, as Belladonna’s unfinished look, crafted by illustrator Kuni Fukai, eschews the anime conventions that Osamu Tezuka more or less invented in the first place, in favour of European-style character designs for tragic lead Jeanne, her lover Jean and their sadistic rivals.  It brings to mind Yoshitaka Amano’s character designs for the Final Fantasy video game series in the 80’s and 90’s, as filtered though a prism of psychedelic Art Nouveau revivalism, Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, and the mystical aura of a tarot deck but never, ever, settling into one sure style. Quick, rough’n’dirty ink backgrounds with simple splotches of watercolour will shift on a dime to incredibly intricate and twisted Technicolor ejaculations of surrealism, psychedelic lights, and kaleidoscope acid-trip overload animation, in the style of Vincent Collins (just Google him, it’s worth it!). 

Once you’re into the Belladonna groove, you’ll realize that inextricable from the film itself is the dead-cool soundtrack by Masahiko Sato (sometimes alternatively anglicized as “Satoh”), who delivers a rich, moonlit trip of hypnotic psychedelia, warm keys, exotic drums, funk bass licks, sizzling horns, and breathy erotica, all veiled in a dark and seductive dance with oblivion. Sato was living in Italy at the time, which is presumably why – with the exception of the distinctly breathy Japanese female vocals – much of the album would fit like a glove among your Stelvio Cipriani, Ennio Morricone, Fabio Frizzi and Guido & Maurizio de Angelis soundtrack LPs… if only you could find the damn thing! 

Sato’s score was pressed to vinyl only once by Italy’s Cinevox label in 1975, under the title of Belladonna (minus the Sadness). This esteemed soundtrack label was riding high at the time on the success of other crossover, funky/prog soundtrack hits, such as Goblin & Giorgio Gaslini’s Profondo Rosso OST, and according to most reviews, Belladonna was recorded with the aid of many “important Italian session musicians”, though as I’m unable to read the Japanese titles of the film (or own a physical copy of the ultra-rare LP), I’m unsure of who’s who. 

The song titles are marvelously awesome and inappropriate, unashamed odes to Sato’s current pop-culture obsessions rather than scenes in the film. Opening track is called “Andy Warhol” (?), organ locked into a dark, dreary, descending pattern, a beckoning call to an icy cool Black Mass, driven by booms of rolling kettle drums, before abruptly switching into a swift hi-hat shuffle, with electric harpsichord and funkified bass line, seemingly lifted directly from an Italian cop flick in mid-car chase. What this has to do with Warhol, I have no clue. 

All 10 tracks are gems: “Belladonna”, the title theme that opens the film (but not the LP) is sung by Mayumi Tachibana; a dreamy invitation to love and hope, a pale light before the tragedy sets in. With its uniquely upbeat pop jams and clanging Church bells, this track, coupled with its refrain at the end of side one, is catchy enough to have become a genuine chart hit in Japan, if only the movie had been a success. I find myself humming the refrain of “Jean po Jeannuuu!” (“Jean and Jeanne”), almost as much as Meiko Kaji’s “Urami Bushi” theme from the Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion series. 

“Funny Feeling” on side two is a conga, kick-drum & hi-hat groove that straps you in tight but never quite takes off, keeping you real edgy. The horn lines and Fender Rhodes slide in and out of the mix, like isolated speakers sparking to life inside your psyche. Druggy, eerie and sexy, it fits with turn of the decade Miles Davis; say “Pharaoh’s Dance” from Bitches Brew set to the beat of On the Corner. The final track, “Take it Easy”, is a straight-to-the-Moon funky psychedelic jam – intense, aggressive, liberating and manic, a perfect finale, with cymbal swirls darting in and out from every angle, fuzz guitar raging, electronics fluttering on the edge of consciousness than devouring it when the time is right. It is pot-smoke music incarnate. Melting, haunting and soothing. 

Discovering goodies like Belladonna of Sadness is what makes the internet so damn special. A DVD of the film was released in 2003 – in Japan only – as part of a box set with Cleopatra and A Thousand And One Nights, two prior erotic animated works from the same director (Eiichi Yamamoto) and production team, but unfortunately not the same composer. These three films make up the entire output of Mushi Production’s Animerama series for adults. No official English or French subtitled versions of Belladonna exist but quality fan-subs are out there. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is hurtingly in need of a re-pressing – perhaps Cinevox, Beat Records, Finder’s Keepers, or Phoenix could be coerced with some pressure? As for now, what we’ve got is the odd original copy popping up on auction sites for more than you can afford, and a YouTube-able vinyl rip. And that’ll have to do. 

A big thanks to Frank Labonte for curating a rare screening of Belladonna of Sadness at Blue Sunshine, and introducing a crew of lucky people to this little-seen, little-heard masterpiece of cruelty and beauty…..By David Bertrand…………….  

Your reviewer has never seen the film Belladonna of Sadness, for which Masahiko Sato performed the score. He’s not particularly certain he’d be able to handle it. The press release for the Belladonna re-release from Finders Keepers definitely played up the psychedelic aspect of the score, to the point where, listening to the opening cut – Andy Warhol – one wondered if they were overselling, as it’s a pretty basic bit of pipe organ and swirling kettle drum. Beautiful and strange, yes, but not substantially psychedelic. 

Of course, then the last 50 seconds of the song kick into overdrive, and there’s a certain sense of having been lulled into a false sense of security. The score backs off for a few cuts, with Belladonna and Valle Incantata operating in pretty standard blissed-out, organ-fueled dreamy ‘60s rock 'n’ roll. Psych rock, but not full-on psychedelia. 

The Notice is Notice, Mr. London, and then pretty much the entire second side of the record, however, are freak outs in full effect. Music phases from side to side, and the stereo effect is used to great ends. By the time the record’s been flipped over, it’s readily apparent as to why this has been reissued, and why it’s been fetching such massive sums on the secondary market for the original pressing. Sato has created music that’s both fascinating and absolutely involving. 

Belladonna and TBSF are the only lyrical cuts, and it seems like that’s just about the right number. Any more would’ve distracted from the absolutely fantastic instrumental work on display here. The guitar is held just barely in check, sounding as if it might at any moment see the collapse of the performer playing it. It’s in stark counterpoint to the absolutely laconic drum work. The organ holds everything together. 

Take It Easy closes everything out on a funky note. Despite adding in strange horns and further percussion, it also keeps the sounds of the earlier tracks while still managing to venture even further afield in terms of absolute musical adventure……BY NICK SPACEK………… 

A1 Andy Warhol 4:00 
A2 Belladonna 3:20 
A3 Valle Incantata 3:30 
A4 The Notice Is Notice 4:40 
B1 Mr. London 2:00 
B2 Little Flower 2:00 
B3 Funny Feeling 4:00 
B4 TBSF 3:00 
B5 Take It Easy 6:00 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..